What's at Stake in Egypt's Weekend Protests
The June 30 protests in Egypt organized by the Tamarrod movement represent a threat to the Egyptian government's political legitimacy. Though it is unlikely that the Tamarrod protests will succeed in their stated goal of removing Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi from office, the size and intensity of the upcoming protests will be an important litmus test for the current regime. The Tamarrod movement has given voice to an increasingly visceral dissatisfaction with Morsi's government in Egypt and could further undermine the Muslim Brotherhood's attempts to govern. But the Egyptian military is the ultimate source of power in the country, and it is still in its interest to maintain its cooperation with the Muslim Brotherhood-led government.
Tamarrod's ultimate capabilities have yet to be seen. The movement has been able to unite Egypt's various secular and leftist opposition groups, and even some Islamist forces have indicated, if not support, an overall ambivalence. The group claims to have gathered 15 million signatures for its petition against Morsi, but those numbers are likely inflated. It will therefore be important to keep a close eye on the June 30 protests to get a sense of just how popular the movement has become. The group knows that it can only be effective if it forces the hand of the Egyptian military; absent that, it will just be another round of political unrest in a country where it has become commonplace.
Either way, the Muslim Brotherhood is becoming increasingly less popular because it is struggling to move Egypt out of a place of political gridlock. In response, the Brotherhood has begun relying on ways outside of the government to boost its popularity — such as providing bread directly to its constituents through a network of NGOs. The Brotherhood will likely continue to try to use its ability to organize programs and provide services to repair its image.
For its part, the Egyptian military needs to maintain the integrity of the office of the presidency, and in particular its partnership with the Brotherhood. The military has no desire to rule the country directly, and despite the fact that it has more in common ideologically with the opposition, the Brotherhood is the most organized civilian partner in the country. This has made the military and the Brotherhood unlikely partners.
That said, the military cannot turn a blind eye if the protests lead to unrest and violence that undermines the state. The military has shown a willingness in the past to intervene in limited ways and has already begun to deploy around key areas in Egypt should the upcoming June 30 protests get out of hand.
The Tamarrod opposition will likely fall short of its publicly stated goals to oust Morsi, because it will lack the ability to overwhelm the Egyptian state. Furthermore, removing Morsi would set a dangerous precedent for the military, one where street protests would become the ultimate arbiter of who should serve in government. But Tamarrod is important because it is a manifestation of the growing popular dissatisfaction with Morsi's regime. It is one of the first signs that Egypt's opposition is capable of coalescing into more than fragmented parties. If the protests become the first step towards the opposition being able to organize itself around particular leaders and principles, Tamarrod will be remembered as a key event in Egyptian political history. But if it splinters as soon as June 30 passes, it will be just another moment of social catharsis as Egypt finds ways to stumble along the same path it has since Mubarak fell some 28 months ago.